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June 8, 2001

Institute awards research grants

by Teddi Barron
Seven research projects with promising futures have received start-up funds from the Plant Sciences Institute. The two-year grants were awarded to faculty through a competitive program intended to stimulate excellence in plant science research. The projects are described below.

  • Alexander Aleshin and Richard Honzatko, biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology; and Patrick Schnable, agronomy, will develop a high-throughput process to determine the structure and function of hundreds of plant proteins. Normally, protein structural determination is painstakingly slow and done one protein at a time. Their faster survey approach will complement the work done in large-scale genomics studies. ($40,000)

  • Plants have receptor proteins that detect specific stimuli such as the presence of disease-causing microbes. Adam Bogdanove, plant pathology, will work on ways to improve disease resistance in plants by examining plant pathogen receptors. Modifying the receptors to increase their ability to recognize diverse pathogenic microbes could be an effective way to help control plant diseases. ($40,000)

  • The ability of breeders to improve plant performance over many generations is not well understood. Jean-Luc Jannink and Michael Lee, agronomy, and Rohan Fernando, animal science, will study the reshuffling of the oat genome that occurs in response to selection over nine generations to increase oil content. This will increase under-standing and better predict the outcome of selection processes. ($25,000)

  • Shailesh Lal and Volker Brendel, zoology and genetics, will identify and analyze genes in the model plant, Arabidopsis, that may be alternatively spliced. During alternative splicing, some pieces of messenger RNA are linked together differently. Alternative splicing is prevalent in humans and may account for the large amount of genetic information in the small number of human genes. ($24,000)

  • Molecular approaches to manipulate seed composition could help meet the growing demand for modified oils and proteins and other plant-based products. However, scientists don't fully understand how seed metabolism is regulated. In this project, Jacqueline Shanks, chemical engineering; Martin Spalding, botany; and Mark Westgate, agronomy; will develop a non-invasive technology to learn more about the metabolic changes that control the flow of carbon in living seeds. ($50,000)

  • Many advances in agricultural biotechnology have resulted from the introduction of genes into plants. In general, it is difficult to predict where introduced genes will end up in a plant genome. Daniel Voytas and Thomas Peterson, zoology and genetics, will develop a technique that will allow researchers to target genes to specific sites in the plant genome. This technology potentially can increase crop value and will be useful for understanding basic plant biology. ($40,000)

  • Plants control the expression of their genes (turn specific sets of genes on and off) in several different ways in response to environmental stresses like pathogen infection or heavy metals. This team will develop a method to simultaneously study the expression patterns of thousands of plant genes during different stress conditions and determine how the expression of many of these genes is regulated. The researchers are Steven Whitham and W. Allen Miller, plant pathology; and David Oliver, botany. ($40,000)

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